Troy Wilson, of Jamaica, Queens, took the national spotlight as he spoke to his 1,100 fellow graduates at the commencement ceremony of Western Governors University in Fairfax, Va., which was also livestreamed nationwide to an audience of thousands. Troy was selected from 35 audition videos of those wanting to be commencement speaker. He earned a bachelor’s degree in educational studies, mild to moderate exceptionalities special education.
As a child, Troy lived with his paternal grandmother while his father was in prison. He was attending the same middle school as his father had and struggled with an identity crisis. He wondered, “Will I end up in prison, too? What’s different about me if I’m living the same life he did?” Neither of his parents graduated high school; some people expected the same from Troy.
Troy's life found focus when a school administrator, Jeanne Rotunda, took notice. His grandmother, who served for more than 30 years as a social worker for the New York City Department of Education, had instilled in Troy a deep sense of the importance of education. As a school principal, Jeanne was able to see his potential, challenge him, and give him responsibilities of school leadership and helping other students.
He said in his powerful commencement speech, “I'm one who didn't start a journey off great, but I received opportunities throughout my life because I had educators in middle school, especially my principal, who saw me failing and loved me and cared enough about me to push me.”
Troy credits Jeanne with suggesting to him a different path that he pays forward today as middle school director at Great Oaks Charter School on the Lower East Side. Troy says of his work now, “I get the beautiful opportunity to support young people, being fully equipped by WGU to understand their specific needs and help them learn. Today I get to be that educator, one who deeply cares about the success of my students, one who deposits seeds of hope and encouragement for them to accomplish their dreams.”
“That's the power of believing it's not only how you begin a journey but how you end your journey,” he said.